(The above photo and many more can be found over at the fine folks from Austinist's Flickr page)
Last night The Decemberists played a secret (more a title than a reality) show at The Mohawk here in Austin. News of the show was spread via the Decemberists Myspace page, Austinist, and about a bajillion personal myspace bulletins in my inbox. The show was part of the Myspace secret shows series.
I went with a few friends and we decided early on that gaining entrance to this event was of paramount importance to us, so we showed up at 1pm, 6 hours before the doors were to be opened, and a 7 and a half hours before the Decemberists were set to take to the tiny inside stage at The Mohawk. When we arrived there were 15 or so brave souls sitting out in the midday sun alongside the Mohawk fence. They all seemed pretty well prepared with coolers, chairs, umbrellas, and water bottles aplenty. We managed to survive on a deck of cards and several trips to the gas station for bottled water. 6 hours, and several dozen games of Gin Rummy later, the gates were opened and we were ushered in to the Mohawks inside room.
The line was separated at the door into an over 21 line and an under 21 line, luckily the over 21 line moved much quicker than the under 21 line, so I was even able to stop by the bar and get a beer from Mark, one of the best and friendliest bartenders in town, before the rush of underagers came in. I got a pretty good spot a few people from the Mohawks newly built inside stage. The mirrored wall behind the stage was beautifully decorated with lots of Decemberist-y drawings. Images of birds and other woodland creatures surrounded "The Decemberists" in big fancy lettering.
When we had first arrived at 1pm there were signs posted explaining how the entrance process would go. It worked as follows; 500 people would be admitted to the venue, the first 200 of which would be allowed into the inside room, after 200 were inside, the door was operated with a One In/One Out policy. Til We're Blue Or Destroy and Dj Markus with a K entertained the masses outside while they waited to enter the inside room.
By the time Colin Meloy and Co. (in this case Co. consisted of Jenny Conlee on Accordion, Nate Query on Upright Bass, Chris Funk on Guitar, Mandolin, and Banjo, and John Moen on Drums) took the stage the room was packed and it was absolutely sweltering inside. The windows that looked into the room were also packed with people. Colin made sure to acknowledge these outsiders, even taking a request from a fan outside. The show was just fantastic. Quickly upon entering the room Colin told the crowd that they hadn't made a set list and so people should feel free to request songs. This was of course met with nearly every person in the room shouting his or her favorite song as loud as they could. All of the shouts merged together to form a cacophonous din of humanity. My request for "The Legionnaire's Lament" unfortunately fell upon deaf sweaty ears, oh well, can't win 'em all. The band played a discography spanning 90 minute acoustic set that included such highlights as "The Island", "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect", "16 Military Wives", and "Eli The Barrowboy". The mood was light and aside from the heat everything went off great. The band sounded really good, and it's just so much fun to be so close to a band when they play. After fulfilling several crowd requests, covering The Doobie Brothers, and making a few body odor jokes the band left the stage to a raucous applause. The crowd was not ready to end the night there however, so the band returned to the stage amidst some of the loudest cheering I've ever heard at such a small show. Colin grabbed his guitar, stepped to the mic and suggested we take the show outside, since it was so hot inside. And with that the band grabbed their instruments, and paraded the 200 strong crowd out into the considerably cooler evening and played a majestic, unamplified version of "The Mariners Revenge Song". Til We're Blue or Destroy watched intently from the outside stage and The Decemberists played on the ground in the center of the crowd. At the songs whale chomping crescendo Meloy jumped on a table and did their trademark pantomiming of the whale eating the Mariner with his arms. The flashbulbs were popping left and right and it truly was a magical sight. The constant flashes gave a strobe light effect that was just marvelous. At the end of the song Colin thanked the crowd for coming and turned to the stage to give Til We're Blue Or Destroy the cue to go on.
At the end of the day, this was well worth the wait. I have sunburn in a very strange pattern on my legs, and I was exhausted and drenched in sweat by the end of my 9 hour day at the Mohawk, but it was well worth it. I was somewhat disappointed with the last Decemberists show I had seen at Stubbs last fall, but the intimacy of this show reminded me of the wonderful Decemberists shows of a few years ago, when crowd interaction and witty banter to a small room full of people made every show a memorable one.
Kudos to the band and the Mohawk for doing a wonderful job with everything. From Mohawk owner James Moody passing out water bottles to the 30 or so fans in line early in the afternoon, to the wonderful door staff and bartenders, to the band itself, everyone did a great job and I and 199+ other people really had a great time. Well done all.